Commissioner Brillson sends scathing letter to Gov. Holcomb on abrupt takeover of South Shore board

EDITOR’S NOTE: LaPorte County Commissioner Sheila Brillson (D) has taken strong issue with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s (R) reconstruction of the NICTD board of directors. The new state budget includes funding for expansion of the South Shore Line, but also unexpectedly reduces NICTD’s board members from 11 to 5 and puts the board under Holcomb’s complete control, who will appoint all 5 board members. Previously, of the 11, eight board members were appointed by the 4 counties served by the South Shore (including LaPorte County) and 3 by the governor. Brillson’s fellow commission members backed her and passed a resolution asking Holcomb to appoint Brillson to the board, as well as stating it has retained an attorney to look into the board change matter. Here is Brillson’s letter to the governor:

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Dear Governor Holcomb,

Brillson

May I call you Eric? It’s probably best because it looks like we are now closely related … since you have, in one fell swoop, taken control of the northwest Indiana NICTD board and put the current board out to pasture. I really do get it — you as our state leader are investing big tax dollars in the South Shore double-track project and you want a say. However, we are taxpayers and these dollars to which we contribute year after year are ours, actually, not some kind of venture capital investment funds — our money being returned to northern Indiana as an investment into the economic growth of our part of the state. This is surely not the way to build collaborative bridges –or a renewed commuter train system, for that matter.

Take just a moment to listen to our story:

Back when you were just a young boy in central Indiana, the South Shore train chugged along day after day and 12 people served diligently every year, year after year, for some 42 years, setting policy, seeking funding, making capital improvements and running this commuter train to serve northwest Indiana cities and towns across the Region as well as our larger neighbor, one of the largest metropolitan cities in America, Chicago.

Holcomb

As a connector train, we know we meet a need: workers get to their jobs and Indiana families have relied on us over all these decades of service. They have told us stories of how important the train is to their livelihoods and business leaders have spoken to us about the South Shore, the little engine that could,” which directly impacts economic growth and prosperity in northern Indiana. Weve lived it. Through good times and bad times, our “little engine that could” chugged along. In our really rough years, back in the 1970s when times were really tough, we picked up the disgusting name “the Vomit Comet” as we struggled mightily to keep up our service and make capital improvements. But we prevailed and survived, and we continued to chug along.

Flash forward to today: The region is on the map. Illinois folks are looking at northern Indiana as an option for their investments. Our homes are well priced, our business climate is welcoming, taxes are reasonable, and darn, we Hoosiers are really nice folks as the personification of Midwestern values: good work ethic, family focused, and solid values.

So, if this were Wall Street, this would be described as a hostile takeover. In a surprise move, with no discussion, no collaborative or meaningful explanation, language was added to a budget bill to take over a 42-year-old institution. And that’s why this takeover feels so wrong. We have been steady and focused and kept our nose to the grindstone. When we saw a need for service expansion to meet the needs of the future northwest Indiana, we did all the heavy lifting to make this project a viable tax investment. We had scores of meetings and public discussions, dealt with political issues, talked to all the towns and cities across all of the counties to earn their confidence in this project, as well as financial support and buy-in. We worked tirelessly to get federal tax support in Washington. We, the people here, own the system and its assets — assisted by an amazing group of hardworking men and women who work for NICTD and keep us chugging along. Once we got the project all ready to go, wrapped in a gilded ribbon, we were shocked and, frankly, displeased that you and state leaders swept in and without even a conversation, stripped us of local control and our ability to make local decisions that affect our local communities.

So, Governor, please realize that while we are thankful for the taxpayer dollars invested in this important project, our Hoosier values bridle at this hostile takeover move. It doesn’t feel square with our history and the integrity and value of local control as well as our proven ability to drive the train into the future as we have done for over 4 decades.

Please reconsider on behalf of the people of northern Indiana.

Sheila Matias Brillson

Taxpayer and County Commissioner

LaPorte County, Indiana

5 Responses to “Commissioner Brillson sends scathing letter to Gov. Holcomb on abrupt takeover of South Shore board”

  1. James Kimmel

    May 02. 2019

    Here we go again. The citizens of LaPorte, St. Joe, Porter, and Lake counties need to remember what Gov Daniels did with the Indiana Toll Road. Follow that money and very little ended up in the counties that had the Toll Road in our back yard.

    Don’t be naive people. Why now does Gov Holcomb have an interest in the South Shore? Where was Indianapolis 40 years ago when the South Shore was on the edge of closing its doors?

    With the expansion of the double track, comes hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to build it. The Governor now controls who is awarded these contracts, and with that will come BIG money to support the campaigns of those running for election. FOLLOW THE MONEY.

    If the Governor has this new found passion for the South Shore, I suggest that the 4 counties pull their millions of dollars from the double track project and let the Governor find that funding. Once the double track is completed, will it be sold or leased like the Toll Road?

    TIME TO SEND A MESSAGE. Pull the funding.

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  2. Papa Doc

    May 02. 2019

    If the current board had been doing their job efficiently they would still be in charge. Really Sheila, it’s time for your brand of politics and crowny hiring to come to an end. Just look what you have done to economic development in the county. You got rid of someone who knew what he was doing and was effective for what? Another hanger-on of yours. Hopefully it’s not too late to save the Chicago, South Bend and South Shore railroad from the likes of you.

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  3. Richard C Weigel

    May 03. 2019

    Ms Brillson, Your letter to the governor reeked with sarcasm. You are supposed to represent us not take this change as an opportunity to rant. I too would like an explanation for this change, and that is a reasonable question, but you won’t get one if you start a conversation with an insult. We can see how Donald Trump has polarized people using this style. Let’s simply insist on an explanation. Enough said.

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  4. J. M.

    May 03. 2019

    Too bad with all the bluster, Sheila didn’t take the time to look at the actual ridership numbers of the South Shore. By my research they’re losing huge percentages of ridership, 10 straight years. To put another $1.5 billion, into this 1800’s rattle trap technology, it is all a farce, of epic proportions…No chance it is all the locals, are not going to get the big scores all though were a given…Pull the plug on this boondoggle, before all pile 30 years of payments, on a dinosaur…

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  5. Chuka

    May 04. 2019

    The tone of this letter is very insightful to Shelia’s attitude and demeanor. She is very angry because she is losing power! Her letter is not written with any tact and few facts. It certainly does not demonstrate her leadership skills; the letter is just like 2 year old tantrum! She does not show any positive qualities, to be on a board. She wants her way or no way; not what is best for the citizens!

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